Leadership by Anonymous
I recently re-read the book How Successful People Lead, by John C. Maxwell, after having a particularly challenging experience on a contracted project working with an executive team. What should have been a straight-forward operations assessment and recommendation project, turned into walking through a minefield, with every step dodging political bullets as they came whizzing by. I was exhausted by the process and needed every interpersonal skill in my tool belt! So as I passed by my bookshelf, the title caught my attention and I decided to sit down with Maxwell to reflect on what had transpired over recent months and attempt to gain some perspective.
The exec team in this case was led by a well-intentioned CEO who cared about team building, direct communication and authentic collaboration. So, why had his team not matched his cultural expectations? Two members of the team, his CFO and COO, openly mistrusted each other. Each side attempted to use my project to “prove” they were on the right side of the battle line. The COO was territorial, defensive and non-collaborative, missed meetings, and provided just enough information to comply, but lacked purpose and assistance. The CFO was well-behaved in our weekly meetings with the CEO present, but used back channels to try to manipulate the process wherever possible. No wonder I felt exhausted!
How Successful People Lead defines 5 levels of leadership and describes the attributes of each level. As I started to read, it became clear to me that the two execs in question perfectly fit a level one leader: someone who leads through position and power rather than through team-building and motivation, devalues staff, gathers power through accumulating department size and operating budget, and feels territorial over their own areas of responsibility instead of pursuing what is in the best interests of the company.
The CEO of the company confided to me that these observations were indeed the case. He said that the dysfunction of the executive team had created the need to bring in a corporate consultant to try to get the team on the same page. Otherwise, the ability of the company to meet its goals would continue to be compromised by the lack of trust and teamwork on the part of his execs.
Maxwell explains that level one leaders are threatened by talented staff under them. They don’t mentor and cultivate their staff, which can cause star employees to transfer departments or leave the company. Level one leader’s tend to promote employees who will not challenge their authority. My experience certainly confirmed these observations. During the project one of the star employees I met told me they were about to quit and move on because of frustration over the lack of opportunity within the company. By then, however, I had concluded that it wasn’t the company that didn’t cultivate growth in its employees; it was the leader of her department.
Issue after issue of level one leadership characteristics jumped off Maxwell’s pages as I reflected upon this company’s challenges. The issue was so much larger than just executive team dynamics. It had to do with the leadership style of the executives themselves.
Let’s face it, replacing management is a hassle, costs money, and disrupts business, but what is the cost of not taking action? In the case of the company just described, the CEO proved unable to make the necessary adjustments and the dysfunctional situation remains despite his best intentions.
I highly recommend that CEOs assign Maxwell’s book to all levels of management within an organization. Challenge them to assess their leadership level, have them discuss their personal experiences and challenges, and inspire them to climb to the next level of leadership. Ultimately, each of us is responsible for cultivating good leaders and doing so will pay off exponentially. I promise you!